TAMPA — As Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby spoke with reporters Saturday, he paused to glance at the familiar face sitting down next to him.
“He hasn’t changed at all,” Holtby said, looking over at Mike Green, once a Capitals defenseman and these days an all-star blue-liner for the Detroit Red Wings — at least for now.
Green’s career first intersected with Holtby, star winger Alex Ovechkin and Capitals Coach Barry Trotz before Green departed Washington after the 2014-15 season, and then again this past weekend as the NHL’s best players gathered at Amalie Arena for the league’s all-star festivities. There could be yet another intersection this weekend.
Green’s three-year, $18 million contract with the Red Wings expires this summer, and he will likely be one of the most sought-after defensemen at the NHL’s Feb. 26 trade deadline. Green said Saturday he has not had any extension talks with the Red Wings, but that he hopes to remain with the team moving forward. But he could also be a significant trade chip for a team 10 points out of the final Eastern Conference wild-card slot at the all-star break.
The Capitals dealt for Kevin Shattenkirk, whose puck-moving style of play is similar to Green’s, at last year’s deadline. This season Washington has two rookie defensemen, Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos, in a lineup that sits in first place in the Metropolitan Division. The Capitals lost their blue-line depth this summer, as Shattenkirk and veteran Karl Alzner departed in free agency and Nate Schmidt was selected in the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion draft.
The 32-year-old Green, coming off his second all-star appearance, has five goals and 21 assists this season. If the Capitals seek blue-line help heading into another playoff run, Green’s ability to possess the puck, contribute in the offensive zone and boost the power play could make him a good fit.
Just don’t expect him to entertain the idea quite yet.
“Obviously it’s been brought up just recently,” said Green, who was drafted by the Capitals in 2004, of his status heading toward the trade deadline. “I haven’t put too much thought into it. Obviously as the season goes on you focus on the day-to-day path. I wish I could give you more of an answer. I’m sure as the next couple months go on we’ll find out more. I’ll find out more.”
While Holtby quipped that nothing has changed with Green, a few things have. Green spent a lot of time with Holtby over the all-star weekend and said it was cool to see how much bigger Holtby’s kids are. Green now has a 2-year-old son named Axel, whom he and his wife recently took to the rink for the first time. Green, who also brought Axel to Tampa for the All-Star Game, beamed while telling the story.
He admits he was sad to leave Washington but is quick to say that doesn’t mean he hasn’t loved his two-plus years in Detroit. He now offers perspective to young players in Detroit and finds himself drawing on his experience with the Capitals from time to time.
“I’ll be blatantly honest, sometimes things don’t go as well as you want them to and you can kind of get kicked down and you’re faced with adversity,” Green said of what he learned in his time in Washington. “I think that was great, honestly. I think it gave me an opportunity to grow and make me a better player.”
Green did not elaborate on that adversity and didn’t offer any thoughts when asked what was ultimately missing from the Capitals teams he played on.
Green was a dynamic offensive defenseman during his time in Washington, and the game has subsequently evolved to put even greater emphasis on some of the traits Green flaunts. In the 2008-09 season, he scored 31 goals, and he finished with 10 goals and 35 assists in his final season with the Capitals in 2014-15. But he also faced constant questions about his ability to defend.
“With Mike, he’s obviously been an exceptional talent for a long, long time offensively, and probably didn’t get the credit he deserved,” said Trotz, who coached Green for one season and added that the right-shot defenseman has found a better balance between offense and defense.
“I think his style is more the way the game is,” Trotz continued. “He was probably ahead of the curve in some ways, you know? He would be joining the attack and staying in the attack and maybe never leaving the attack, and now I think it’s part of the process where defensemen are expected to complement the attack, continue with the attack, and it’s okay to stay in it.”
While Green hung out with Holtby throughout the weekend, he said he sporadically talked with Ovechkin as well. When asked a question about catching up with Green that made no mention of a possible trade to Washington, Ovechkin ended his answer with, “All the best to him. We’ll see what’s going to happen in the future.”
It was not exactly a bid for the Capitals to bring Green back, but Ovechkin later said he would like it if that happened. In the Atlantic Division locker room Sunday night, filled with players discussing their trick shots from the All-Star Game, the upcoming second half of the season and their teams’ playoff push, Green was the only one considering which city he will be skating in as the season ends.
There is some chance it will be Washington, even if Green will only discuss a future with the Red Wings. So, when he was told that Ovechkin said he wants him back, Green again deflected the possibility.
“Oh, he did?” he said, laughing and fixing his eyes on the locker room carpet. “Oh, yeah … it was … like I said, it was nice to catch up with him, too. Yeah … I’ve heard a lot of comments, so it is what it is.”
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